Dallas: Better for Priests than for Kennedy?

Hey, gang. My name’s Max Lindenman, and I’ll be your Anchoress today. Elizabeth, your regularly scheduled Anchoress, is down for the count. I have taken it upon myself to play her Yiddishe mama, and beg her to see a doctor. She has promised she will.

I told her, “Someday you should have an editor who gives you tsuris like you’re giving me!”

Anyway, moving right along…

Teasing out all the implications of the Dallas Charter is going to take a lot longer than anyone would like. The terms that set the ground rules are all very fuzzy, and leave plenty of room for interpretation. Every diocese constitutes a jurisdiction unto itself; every review board represents the confluence of separate personalities. No one should be surprised if the results, taken together, produce an inconsistent and confusing picture.

In this, I suppose, canon legal proceedings have a lot in common with civil legal proceedings. You’ve heard the expression: “law is what the judge had for breakfast that morning”? Well, if we change “judge” to “review board” or “panel of canon judges,” or even “chancery officials,” we might arrive at the beginning of truth.

This very helpful article from National Catholic Reporter explains that diocesan review boards function roughly like grand juries, or like judges at preliminary hearings. They review the evidence alleging that a priest has harmed a young person; if they decide the evidence is “credible,” they remove him from ministry pending trial.

As the article points out, no precise definition for “credible” exists — at least not yet. It takes its meaning from the phrase “semblance of truth” found in Canon 1717. For evidence to have the semblance of truth, it must “seem true.”

Before allowing a criminal case to proceed to trial, judges and grand juries in secular courts require the prosecution to show “probable cause,” or “information sufficient to warrant a prudent person’s belief that the wanted individual had committed a crime.” That a given allegation “seems true” sounds a much stronger statement. Some might find it draconian that investigators can place the accused under such a high level of suspicion after only a quick investigation.

But in Philadelphia, we’re seeing how diocesan officials can leave review boards out of the loop. Last February, according to Ana Maria Catanzaro, a member of Philadelphia’s review board, a Philadelphia grand jury issued a report, criticizing the review board for failing to suspend priests accused of abusing minors:

The partial information we have received was enough to appall us. At least 10priests who were accused of sexual abuse sometime before 2005 remain in ministry within the Philadelphia Archdiocese today. Another 10 priests remain in ministry today despite more recent accusations – ones made since January 2005. In addition, 4 priests accused since January 2005 were kept in their assignments after they had been accused, but have since either died, been transferred to another diocese, or been removed. And 17priests are currently in ministry even though the Archdiocese is on notice of “inappropriate behavior with minors.”

Catanzaro writes that the review board had only reviewed 10 of those 41 cases, and had decided that the allegations had no merit. That other priests had been accused was news to board members.

…until the grand-jury report came out, the board was under the impression that we were reviewing every abuse allegation received by the archdiocese. Instead, we had been advised only about allegations previously determined by archdiocesan officials to have involved the sexual abuse of a minor—a determination we had been under the impression was ours to make. The board still doesn’t know who made those decisions.

Lately, I’ve noticed certain Catholics telling themselves that the Dallas Charter presents malicious laymen with a golden ticket for destroying the priesthood. If Johnny X so much as whispers to his bishop that Fr. Y said he looked handsome in his new tie, the bishop will hang Father from a meathook and feed his body to dobermans. Thereupon, Johnny’s family can demand a settlement on which they can live comfortably until Christ’s return.

Apparently, it ain’t that simple.

  • kenneth

    All of the procedures and safeguards dioceses have been adopting for the past decade now look wonderful on paper. They are all worse than useless in most locales because the culture and mindsets of leadership which enabled the abuse have not changed at all. To most of the bishops and their conservative apologists, the abuse crisis was simply a ploy by the liberal media and plaintiff’s bar.

    They see nothing fundamentally flawed with leadership priorities or the culture of secrecy and non-transparency behind it all. As a result, progressive-sounding policies mean nothing because those who enforce them are in contempt of the spirit of those regulations.

    I saw this happen time and again here in Chicago. They were one of the very first in the world to draft forward-looking policies. I think they did so in the mid or even early 90s. They have never once lived up to them, as far as I can tell. In every single instance where abuse came to light, there was some reason why they couldn’t report it to law enforcement, why they couldn’t remove the priest from ministry or why they couldn’t bother to tell parishioners that their new pastor had a 25-year record of trouble. They always took a lawyer’s read of things with an eye for the loophole. “We didn’t think subsections B 1.2 and 1.6 were met” etc.

    The upshot is that for the most part, bishops will continue doing the same things, and getting exactly the same results.

    It’s both tragic and amusing that they think abuse is some nefarious plot by outside forces to “destroy the priesthood.” It is their own actions that have mortally wounded the institution, and the moral authority of the Church to a degree that no communist, atheist, liberal or Satanist could hope to achieve in their wildest fantasies. In Ireland, where Catholicism survived countless centuries of poverty, war, famine and periods of organized cultural genocide, the Church’s own have damaged its reputation almost beyond repair.

  • momor

    According to Ms. Catanzaro’s article it is clear that her board was just a puppet of the archdiocesan powers that be. “They” (and she states she still doesn’t know who they is/are) decided which cases the board would review and how much information they would be given access to.

    There is still a great deal of reforming yet to do. I suspect there is no changing the current group of bishops who have this kind of attitude since there is no negative consequence for staying the same. Now, if the abuse settlements came out of the cardinals/bishops salaries and pension fund however….

  • kenneth

    What needs to happens is that we need to start treating this problem for what it it: organized crime. If any other organization on Earth did what these bishops have done, on the scale they have done it, they and their organization would have been crushed to a talcum-fine powder and scattered to the winds by federal prosecutors. Centuries of jail time would be meted out, every building and car and bank account and office chair associated with the crimes would be seized and sold at auction.

    As a society we need to find the stones to make that the “standard of care” from now on. We’ve been treating this almost as a private organizational matter, like how a boarding school deals with the senior class prank or a hazing incident. It is not. Nor is it a problem of “just” a few bad priests. Those priests were, in every instance, actively protected an enabled in the facilitation of their crimes, often over many many decades.

    Bishops and those working for them concealed crimes from authorities, aided interstate and even international flight, misappropriated charitable funds in furtherance of crime (aka money laundering AND tax fraud), bribed and intimidated victims and witnesses. They did so in a calculated and persistent manner on a scale FAR beyond what could be explained by a good faith presumption of honest mistakes. THAT, my friends, is the textbook definition of racketeering, and it should be fought with every resource available to us. Once a couple bishops start drawing 40-year prison sentences or desparately negotiating for lesser pleas, that brotherhood will find it’s moral compass quicker than you can say “maximum security”!

    In addition, the priesthood and those who supervise them in any pastoral role overseeing minors needs to be made “reportable” professions like teachers and doctors. That means that if you have a reasonable suspicion of abuse and fail to report it, you’re criminally liable.

  • momor

    I was reading about Marian apparitions last night and I found some of the message and secrets of LaSalette to be appropo to what we see in the Church today. Mary said that the Church would be brought low and then rebuilt in the image of her Son, humble and poor.

  • Greta

    I think anyone coming forward with an story on a priest should make sure that they are indeed reporting facts completely and accurately. I wonder how many of the accusers are now sitting there with a few bucks leftover after the blood sucking attorney gets his fee, and hearing the question..Did I really sell my soul for 30 pieces of silver..

    I wonder how much of the settlements are rewarding lies which are not only damaging the priest, but the soul of the accused and frankly those who were abused. Considering so little reporting goes on for the vast majority of abuse where no Catholic Church sits waiting to pay, it begs the question of what is real, what created harm, and what exactly is the full motive involved. I remember as a child, some adult touched me in a way I was uncomfortable with, but do not remember details and it certainly has not traumatzed my life. If I did remember now, my inclination would be to see if the scum bucket was still around and go see him with a bat, not a lawyer. Yes, I know that is wrong, but suing the church because of the slimball does not seem like justice.

  • kenneth

    False accusations are, at best, a vanishingly small part of the abuse crisis. For one thing, there’ aren’t a lot of grown men or teens eager to go public saying they were raped, even on the chance of a payday. Second, false allegations are fairly easy to smoke out with decent police work, when detectives are allowed to do their jobs and crimes are actually reported. I’ve dealt with a number of cases of false police reports. Those who make them are usually idiots who get basic facts like times and places very wrong and very inconsistent and who usually have a fairly obvious motive for what they are doing.

    The abuse crisis has not been a phenomenon of priests with squeaky clean records who are torpedoed one day by one alleged victim with an unverifiable sob story. They are men with four, five, 10 accusations against them over many years from many different accusers in disparate parts of the country.

    Some of the most damming evidence comes not from the accuser’s present day testimony, but from the church’s own records. In very many of these cases, diocese officials and bishops themselves clearly had no doubt of the guilt of the accused. They were often quite clearly troubled by what they found in initial investigations, but they gave explicit orders that the matter be swept under the rug, transferred the perpetrator to another parish and said nothing to the communities receiving them. Suing the church for the conduct of the slimeball is completely appropriate when the church actively aided and abetted the slimeball’s behavior, and it’s not the accuser’s souls who are at risk…

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Those are very good points, Greta.

    The vast majority of abuse occurs outside the church. But you don’t see all this hue-and-cry after the U.N., or the secular porn/prostitution industry, because there are no deep pockets to get money from them; the latter is too wel lawyered up, and the former—well, how can you say such awful things about the U.N.? Isn’t it working for peace?

    And so on.

    (Suing anybody, for anything, is more about the big bucks, than it is about “justice”. And, frequently, the money so gained by the victim does not last for long.)

    It’s common knowledge that prostitution, and pornography exploit young, vulnerable, often drug-addicted kids—but it’ll be a cold day in heck befoer you’ll see the victims coming foward to accuse their exploiters, or the cops, or the legal indusry, supporting them, or trying to clean up the mess.

    And no one’s going to try and go after the U.N.

    To paraphrase George Orwell, “Some child abusers are more guilty than others”

  • kenneth

    There’s a hell of a “hue and cry” about abuse that happens outside of the church. Every day, men are arrested in droves for soliciting minors online. Organizers of underage prostitution rings get caught, and they go to prison forever. They don’t get to pay out a negotiated settlement decades after the fact. They don’t get to shield evidence under the guise of operating their own sovereign nation. They can’t opt out of prosecution because they suddenly got this really cool job in Rome and won’t be available for trial for the rest of their lives.

    In the news business, I saw firsthand how secular abusers were handled vs church abusers. I covered an upscale suburban community, and there were a good many abuse cases that had nothing to do with the church. Teachers, gym coaches, doctors, tanning salon operators, the works. There were also cases of priests abusers from some of the local schools and parishes, including some of the landmark lawsuit cases.

    Now, here’s the difference. When victims came forward, the secular suspects were off the job THAT DAY. They were in police irons within the week. Not in 35 or 40 years after they ran out the statute of limitations after their employer helped them live as a comfortable fugitive.

    The priest cases came to light decades later. Their arrests, when they came at all, happened only after the media or victims forced the church’s hand by outing the affair. This was not all stuff that happened in 1963 either. There were coverups going on well into this decade.

    Lawsuits are a poor semblance of justice. But they are often the only recourse victims have. Very often the victims sought justice at the time of the crimes. They were denied and intimidated. They wanted validation and justice, not the hope of an eventual payday for some attorney after they endured torment for decades.

    Justice, according to the words of Jesus himself, would have been summary execution for the abusers and those who assisted them. Recall the whole “millstone around the neck” bit?

    I’d settle for very aggressive imprisonment and criminal asset forfeiture. Until victims get real justice, lawsuits will do…

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Lawsuits are not justice. They sometimes produce some good results—but justice they aren’t.

    If people really wanted validation, and justice, the money would mean nothing to them.

    And I’ll believe that there really is an equal effort against non-church child abuse when they actually start cleaning up child prostitution, and the schools; when kids stop “disappearing” from foster care, when sex tourism to places like Thailand isn’t tolerated with winks and knowing sniggers and when the porn industry is actually shut down (as well as the U.N.). Yeah, some of the big-wigs might go to jail for life (by the way—do you have some links for any of them?) but the industry continues apace, and the revolving door stuff does no good.

    Also, you rarely, if ever, hear of a victim bringing a lawsuit against a crime syndicate, or some porn producer in the San Fernando Valley, that actually resulted in their getting any kind of money, justice or validation; usually they have to go into a witness protection program, whereas the church has, at least tried, to make some kind of restitution. (Forget about taking on the U.N., or holding it accountable for anything.)

    The church is flawed; so is the rest of our society. The selective indignation is more about hostility to the Church than it is to child abuse.

    As I said earlier, paraphrasing Orwell—some abusers are guiltier than others.

  • kenneth

    Child prostitution is a hell of a problem, especially overseas but also here. It’s overwhelmingly a problem of poverty and corruption. Sex tourism is not tolerated in this country. We have some very strict laws where that’s concerned and more than a few men have gone to prison for predatory acts overseas. The porn industry has nothing to do with it except for the criminals who engage in underage pornography. I’m not sure how the U.N. is actively facilitating child prostitution. They are probably not doing all they could be, as is the case for everything they do, but I’m not aware of any centralized effort to help abusers evade prosecution.

    You don’t hear about people suing crime syndicates because they don’t have to. Unlike the church, our society has not coddled them or granted them a bulletproof presumption of credibility (or the shield of the confessional) and so criminal prosecution (aka real justice) has been able to function. Criminals do, in fact, face civil prosecution at times. A big part of the RICO law involves the ability to recover large damages from the offending parties. OJ was found civilly liable despite his escape from criminal penalty. In addition, many many violent hate groups have been sued out of existence.

    The church has never “tried to make restitution.” They have done so only when some lawyer and jury has a boot on their throat. If they had any real contrition, they would have done the right thing when it still meant something, when someone wasn’t looking or forcing them.

    I have enough disgust for child abuse to go around to all quarters, secular and religious. If I have a particular disgust for the church’s abuse apologists, it is because their arguments expose them as the biggest purveyors of moral relativism on the face of the Earth. We’re talking about a hideous betrayal of trust. The one act that motivated your savior to homicidal rage, and the bottom line response I always hear is that “secular abusers do it too, and in the big picture, our record isn’t all that bad.”

  • Sophia

    BRAVO, Kenneth!!! Your perspectives on this ugly situation are sooooo very clear and true and well stated. And thank you for the strength & consistancy with which you have said what not only needs to be said, but needs to be HEARD! Yes, disgust is in order all around and “to all quarters, secular and religious”. It’s that “hideous betrayal of trust” within the Catholic Church that is so extraordinarily devastating…it puts so many good people who want to trust and believe in the goodness of the Church and her members in the position being expected to be faithful but not knowing if the very men they want to look up to as shepherds are in truth the very likes of whom Christ recommended millstones.

    I believe that from the Dallas Charter down to the local parish level, attempts to address the issue are really no more than the same-old-same-old goofing around: pretending to care, pretending that appropriate action is being taken, pretending surprise and disgust; but in truth just pretending all around for the sake of appearences. When all hell broke loose, so to speak, with the cases in Boston, I thought: finally, the emporer has been called naked… surely the denial cannot continue…the duplicity and entrenched moral relativism among Catholics, clergy & lay alike, is out in the open and the terrible harm done can no longer be hidden & denied. But no, so long as this ugly business is not faced squarely and thoroughly and honestly as you suggest, the guilty will have a framework for keeping up appearences and THE INNOCENT WILL CONTINUE TO BE IN HARMS WAY! And the faithful will have to live in confusion and doubt.

    To the saying that “evil prevails when good men do nothing”, I would add ” when good men do nothing in the face of evil, they then cease to be good men.” Therein lies the scandal…the hideous breach of trust which sets the Catholic issue of abuse apart from the secular.

    I don’t really expect to feel safe in the secular world at large anymore; but as a Catholic I would like to feel safe in the Church… and I DON”T!!! Is that my fault? No! Does God want us to be in a position where we must fear those he would have us trust? No!

    It’s a horrible and confusing mess and until responsibility and accountablity is taken, it will be the innocent who stand to pay the highest price in suffering.

  • Greta

    Kenneth, you are simply wrong. The abuse is so large as defined by what the priests did that if it were attacked in the same way going back 40 years, the jails would have to increase a hundred fold. As Bishop Dolan pointed out recently, the abuse with teachers in NYC in one year was huge in comparison and that was only those cases uncovered. Was the city sued for millions of dollars?

    Just in the homosexual community, (as so easily seen a major part of the priest abuse scandal with 81% homosexual priest targeting what is known as twinks) there would be a major uproar if we had this area targeted. Yet if the concern is these boys, it should be started today and not let up until they were all in jail if they touched a boy. I am not for excusing the priests or anyone else. I think that rather than lawyers making millions, that those found guilty no matter who or where should do hard time. I find it amazing that those who hate the Church so much that they want to continue to bring it up, would also fight any exclusion of gays in seminaries despite the complete Jay Report or that they would fight any move to punish non priest homosexuals with the same vigor.

    So lets agree that anyone that touches a kid under 18 goes to jail and if let out, we can assume they will do it again as is shown in those with this attraction problem. male or femail, straight or gay. end child abuse anywhere at any time. If we go back 40 years for priests, then we should go back the same for everyone. If we sue the employer who knowingly does not report the crime, then we need to sue all employers including city, state, or federal employers. If the Catholic Church has to have a zero tolerance policy for this to satisfy the people and media, then lets set up a zero tolerance policy with all employers. If we have to have ongoing background checks on this issue for Catholic Church, then lets do the same with all employers. After all, it is just the kids that our the concern, not Catholic Church bashing…right??

  • kenneth

    Dolan’s advocacy for moral relativism is very telling, and entirely characteristic. Those found guilty should do hard time, and they would have, had they not been shielded from justice by bishops for decades until the clock ran out on statutes of limitations.

    I don’t care if they church wants to allow gay priests or not, but the move to rid the seminaries of them is a grotesque denial of the real problem behind the scandal:the culture of secrecy and non-accountability of leadership. It is also this same culture of homophobia which made seminaries a magnet for damaged men. By defining gay orientation as a pathology, they taught generations of gay men that their sexuality was a curse they could flee from and that ordination would just make it all go away.

    I have no objection to having both civil and religious entities held civilly and criminally liable with no time limits. Nor do I have any problem with requiring secular entities working with underage people in vulnerable roles to have zero tolerance policies. That’s been the industry standard for many years now. In addition, most of these other professions are now mandatory reporters of abuse. That means they have a legal obligation to report suspected abuse of any kind to law enforcement, not just their superiors.

    The one profession where this is not universally true is the priesthood. It’s also very interesting that bishops and their lobbying groups consistently fight tooth and nail any legislation that would extend reporting requirements to their organization. Curious, that.

    Nor has the church ever undertaken on its own initiative to make mandatory reporting an internal policy. In fact their 1962 directive, at a period when the crimes of the present day crisis were in full bloom, prohibited reporting of crimes upon pain of excommunication. As late as the late 1990s when their PR people were telling us all that the church had really learned from its mistakes and was moving forward, another policy directive was sent out saying that mandatory reporting really wasn’t mandatory and in fact should be avoided whenever possible to limit scandal and liability.

  • Sophia


    The Church does little more than go through the motions in terms of background checks. The so called Child Protection paperwork they make you go through is bogus. I’ve been through it. I have also been through security clearance for the FBI (and not even for a position that was of much significance). Huge difference!!! The gov’t checks things out thoroughly and gathers objective info from many different sources & angles. The Church goes by the info and references you give them and from what I observed there was no evidence that things were checked out or cross-referenced by objective 3rd parties. At the end they hand you a piece of paper to sign…it’s a legal document which says that the Diocese can never be sued. It was done in such a way that I wasn’t able to make a copy of that one before submitting it. It was then that I realized that the whole thing should have been called “Diocese Protection”. I mentioned that to a priest I knew, without mentioning my experience…just stating that the so called Child Protection programs should really be called “Diocese Protection”… and he agreed. I asume he had seen the bogusness as well. I walked away from it all thoroughly disguted and disillusioned. I found out that at the same time the diocese had hired a man to teach whose history was well known by many in the area. His character could have easily been assertained had the powers that be looked beyond the information he provided. He was well known as a charmer and a liar who took advantage of women and young girls, had gone through a string of divorces (which are in the public record & easily looked up), betraying his first wife and three young children by having an affair with an underage girl. That’s statutory rape. No one ever pressed charges so no legal record would have shown up, but it was a big deal that lots of people knew about and he didn’t even deny it at the time. This was all in what I had once thought to be a more orthodox/faithful diocese. He taught there for about 5 years until he died last year. I imagine that diocese has no idea to this day how embarrassed they should be. It made me embarrased to be a Catholic. Respectable non-Catholics in the area found it abolutely appalling; but I dare say few are surprised anymore.
    It’s a horrible sham & a true shame if you ask me.